Successful Saturday: Are Well-behaved Teens an Oxy Moron
This successful Saturday will focus on the library's success in attracting teens to the library without gaming, without offering special programs, and without doing anything but having one group at the library meet monthly.
A typical problem with teens is that they get into trouble. Libraries will actually try to avoid them because they destroy things, are too loud, and general annoy everyone, including the staff. When I first came to my library, we never saw any teens. We had some programs for them, mostly aimed at middle schoolers with very little success. We had a grant to set-up an E-Mag program which was an online website teens could create on their own. The product was fine, but it quickly fizzled out. By the time I came on board, the program was a program in name only. We wanted to attract teens and make the library a place for them to go and congregate. I looked to strategies to get them in the door and went to the local high school. At the time, the library still had its old Gates computers and only had 11. When I went to the High School and saw what they had after school it was shocking. They had dozens of computers all lined in a row, fast and up to date. There was no way we could compete with that, so I gave up on it.
When the library performed its strategic plan, one of the big needs of the community was to provide activities for teens. We decided we needed to provide recreational and educational opportunities that were open ended for teens to drop in whenever they wanted. We also said we would dedicate at least 10% of our computers to this population. We had a vague plan, but it was in the direction we already knew we needed to go.
We provided programs that summer for teens. We had game nights. We bought and Xbox and a Playstation. We had competitions and for a while the teens were showing up and playing the games and getting involved, then it stopped. For one month we had great participation, but then they just stopped coming. In the end we found out that we could not keep up on the gaming end. The demand for games was beyond our budget. We could not get the best and most desired games fast enough. We decided that we were not yet at the level that we needed to be in that area, so we tried a different approach.
Our Youth librarian created a group of teens that would meet once a week until they decided on what meeting day was best. They came up with their own name SPARC, Students Participating in an Advisory Reading Committee. It was just like a Teen Advisory Group, but we just did not call it a teen group. Never call anything a teen if you want teens to come. In my community, the Boys and Girls Club wanted to create a teen club where teens could hang out. After getting feedback, the number one complaint of theirs was that if you call anything a teen something, we will definitely not come.
After meeting with the SPARC group for some time, they gave us ideas on what books to buy, what graphic novels to buy, and what types of things they wanted to see on the computers. In the end, they wanted good material to read and a hands off approach on the computers. They did not want something specifically geared for them, but just to be allowed more freedom on the computers. Don't block MySpace or chat, let us use the computers in the way we want them and trust us. So we did.
In our first quarter of this activity, we found circulation in the Young Adult Sections go up 40 % and computer usage go from dismal to 28% of the collection. We dedicated 20% of the computers to the teens, but then decided to let them go where they wanted and to just perform the roving reference to make sure everything was ok. So all the numbers are up, but what about the behavior, had I turned our library upside down with unruly teens yelling, talking on cell phones, causing problems? The answer was no. They were well-behaved and good and showed an active interest in our collection, our computers, and the library itself. The library is a hang-out place. On Friday's the High School lets out early and by 1pm, all the High Schoolers come down to the library. Most people would have been scared. The funny thing was that yesterday a City Councilman came into the library to sit and check things out. He was down were most of the teens were and I was surprised to see him when I went downstairs near the end of the day. He said, “I was surprised by all the activity and all the teens. I see a lot of teens on MySpace, but they are all so well-behaved. They don't act unruly or cause problems. I know they use MySpace, but they are probably just talking to their friends and doing what teens do. It is great to see them here, this is a great place for them.” To have both the teens act that way and to have my councilman see it was perfect.